Kobe Bryant recently passed Karl Malone to assume 4th place on the NBA's list of career playoff scoring leaders, but the Los Angeles Lakers' defensive performance in the past two games of their series with the Phoenix Suns, dims the glow of this accomplishment.
Bryant will head back to Los Angeles for Game Five after amassing 74 points and 21 assists, only to see his offensive brilliance in Phoenix wasted by an inconsistent, and at times horrible, Lakers' defense.
The root of the problem begins with a familiar inability to defend the pick and roll, which is a Lakers' malady dating back to the days of Shaquille O'Neal, but those Lakers never defended anything quite like this.
Phoenix's pick and roll is the steroids version, and their entire offensive scheme is centered on creating mismatches from every angle of the court, with multiple players.
Utah's John Stockton and Karl Malone ran the best version of the pick and roll I have ever seen, but Phoenix's is not far behind, and the versatility of it dwarfs anything Jerry Sloan was running in the 90's.
Steve Nash's vision enables him to see the whole court at any given time, and he is just as likely to shovel one of his patented "pocket passes" out to the perimeter, as he is to dump it in the paint.
And the Lakers' normally superb perimeter defense has been slow in its rotations, which can prove to be deadly against the Suns' stable of outside shooters.
But it's the Lakers' poor defensive play in the post that has swung the momentum of the series, and a change must be made if Los Angeles hopes to slow Phoenix down.
Amar'e Stoudemire has been the main culprit of the Lakers' misery, and he presents a different challenge for each Lakers' defender who has been asked to guard him.
Pau Gasol is long enough to defend Stoudemire, but he is not as quick, so Nash runs the pick and roll to the outside in order to isolate Stoudemire, and allow him to take advantage of his quickness.
With Lamar Odom it's the reverse because although he can defend Stoudemire on the perimeter, he's not strong enough to prevent Stoudemire from bullying him in the post.
This would not normally be a problem for Los Angeles because they have Andrew Bynum to erase their mistakes at the rim, but Bynum's knee injury has become more visible at a time when the Suns' Robin Lopez is rising.
Lopez's length and strength in the paint has given the under-sized Phoenix team some relief in the post, and Bynum's limited mobility has made him less of a threat on the defensive end of the floor.
Bryant is not without fault on the defensive end either because his decision to cheat in the middle has accounted for some open perimeter shots from the likes of Jared Dudley and Leandro Barbosa.
But Bryant's defensive shortcomings have been nowhere near as egregious as the Lakers' post players, and when Bryant delivers on the offensive end as he did in Phoenix, one would expect the Lakers to prevail.
Nash's offensive game has been limited by the strength of the Lakers' guards but they still haven't prevented him from penetrating the paint, and they are not making his passing angles difficult enough.
It's not enough just to knock Nash off his stride. His vision has to be obstructed, and the Lakers have to use their floor spacing to reduce the ridiculous angles to which Nash is accustomed.
The Lakers have the blueprint from their first two home victories where they swarmed Nash at the point of entry, and collapsed on Stoudemire when he did receive the ball in the post.
They must draw on the lessons learned from those two games in order to draw inspiration for Game Five, and if Bryant happens to have the same type of offensive explosion that has become the norm in this series, it would be nice to have some defensive help to make it stick.
Most coaches will say the team who rebounds and plays defense will generally win the game. The energy of the Suns beats the Lakers on the boards, and the pick and roll beats them on defense.